Chartwell$: Exploiting Students for Money

Michael Pearce, Sports Editor

Talk to anyone around campus with a meal plan. They’ll usually tell you the same thing: “I’m already so low on my declining dollars.”

It’s no secret the prices of food on campus are way too high, but everyone just seems to accept it. It’s widely known that it is cheaper to buy the same things at a grocery store instead of getting a meal plan, but the convenience of being able to grab food while you study or work in the Oakland Center (OC) is unmatched.

Chartwells knows this. They know the convenience of keeping your hard-to-find parking spot and grabbing a sandwich in the OC. That’s why they charge over 200% for every food option, all the while undervaluing your declining dollar balance.

At the Market store as you enter the OC, you can find snacks and meals, including “veggie trays” for $6, Chobani yogurts for $2.79 and P3 protein packs for $3.29. The same items at Walmart? $1.97, $1.22 and $1.50, respectively.

This is not an isolated incident. An individual cheese stick is $1.09 while 12 of the same cost $3.94 at Walmart. Lunchables can be found in the OC and residence halls for a near $2 up-charge, going from $1.98 in stores to $3.89 on campus.

Do you enjoy some hummus and pretzels as a healthy snack? Too bad if you’re struggling to make ends meet. At Walmart, you can buy an individual Sabra hummus snack for $1.98. In the OC? $4.39.

These prices are outrageous. Oakland promotes the meal plan heavily — you will see Chartwells ads all over campus suggesting a meal plan, especially during recruitment of prospective students. They want us to think it is the best way to go as far as feeding ourselves. In reality, they want to trap students into paying ridiculous prices for food to turn a profit.

Prices of the actual meal plans are not listed on Oakland’s website, so figuring out the actual cost takes some math. Living in the Anne V. Nicholson apartments costs $8,690 for both semesters. Living in Oak View Hall or Hillcrest Hall costs $11,515 per student, as the meal plan is included in the cost.

So, that puts the implied cost of a meal plan at $2,825. A near $3,000 cost for either 280 meals and 280 declining, 225 meals and 335 declining or 165 and 450 declining. Not only does this seem like not enough compensation for almost $3,000, the scale Chartwells uses is incredibly predatory.

More money is made in the dining halls. Chartwells charges at minimum $10 per person who doesn’t have a meal plan to eat in Vandenberg or Hillcrest. That $10 is just for breakfast. Lunch costs around $12, and dinner can be up to $15. So, why when the meal plan is changed from 280/280 to 225/335, is each meal plan valued at $1 each? For each meal you convert into declining dollars, you are receiving 10% of the sticker price value for the lowest costing meal.

This is predatory. There is no way around it. Charging ridiculous prices for food and then undervaluing the meal value as it pertains to students is not in the best interest of on-campus students. This is not to mention the prices they are charging are the same, and actually higher for commuters because they charge sales tax.

These commuting students are students who are making a cost-effective choice, and if they are starving in the OC between classes, they might not have another choice. If they’re working a long day at their on-campus jobs, they might have to pony up for a $6 sandwich that costs less than $2 at Walmart.

Chartwells knows this, and they do not care. They want your money, and they don’t care how they get it. Whether it’s charging $10 for a meal that they value to students at $1 when changing a meal plan, or it’s charging over 200% for a cup of yogurt, Chartwells just cares about the bottom line.

They don’t care about providing solid value for students, which is an unfortunate look for a university that prides itself on being a university that cares about students. This “fee-free” university needs to take a look at the outrageous prices that their primary food provider is charging students just to survive.